PC: Karl Bauer

I wish Pain Upon You

An introduction to Amor Fati, with a hint of Apatheia

You got laid off from your dream job, you got rejected from your dream school, the girl you liked and thought you vibed with turned you down when you asked her out, the list goes on…

At first, it makes sense to look at these things as just agonizing things that bring pain. Would you ever want to live in a world where you get rejected every time you ask someone out or a world where every job posting and opportunity turns its back on you?

You should get hurt, here’s why…

It’s safe to say you’d never want to live that kind of life, let alone put anyone you love and care for through it. It’s unlikely you would even condemn the guy at the gym who doesn’t put back his weights to such a fate!

Yet we experience bad things like rejection quite often in our lives, and that becomes the pain archived in our past. Most people agree that we can’t live our lives without pain, but with that said we still persist as human beings do, to find happiness.

That is unless you’re the man Friedrich Nietzsche, a famous German Philosopher from the late 1800’s. Nietzsche’s life was filled with problems, including estrangement from his mother and father, constant financial trouble because his work disagreed with the opinions of most intellectuals back then, and rejection from the love of his life 3 times over.

He’s the guy that when asked about his troubles, passionately replied:

“To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities — I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not — that one endures.” — Freidrich Nietzsche

You see, Nietzsche genuinely believed he was incredibly fortunate for going through so many bad things, and he felt sorry for his peers who lived easier lives.

In his eyes, pain isn’t just an inevitable part of your average human life. He saw pain as a means to build a great person with tenacity and the ability to endure.

For Nietzsche, pain is an opportunity: a chance for you to grow into a more resilient, wiser, and stronger version of yourself. By fully embracing this notion of pain being an opportunity for growth, Nietzsche fell in love with the idea of Amor Fati- To love one’s fate.

Amor Fati stems from the idea of being grateful for the hardships of your life, because of the key realizations and lessons the experiences gives you. Nietzsche’s life was full of personal hardship when it came to money, family, romance, and even his own health.

Enjoy life’s ups, Love life’s downs

If you look at what happened to Nietzsche it looks like that world I described earlier: where you get rejected by everybody you fall in love with and rejected for every job you apply to.

Living this life of hardship, Nietzsche came to the realization that his inner greatness and ability to endure was because of his hard life. He realized that it was only by embracing the notion of loving his fate as to his life of hardship, would he intentionally build himself up into a more resilient person each day.

In one of my articles on Stoic ethics, I recalled a moment where I was almost stabbed dead on the streets of my neighborhood at age 16. I survived that incident without any injuries, but I came home from that day a changed person.

That day has been the biggest inflection point in my life so far, and it marked a key realization in myself that I wanted to live up to my full potential. As cliche as it sounds, I reflected on that experience and became more determined than ever to become the most impactful and awesome version of myself.

Through the hardship emerged a much more resilient, and driven version of Michael Trinh. To this day I ‘m still extremely grateful for the experience, which is why I personally vibe with the idea of amor fati so much.

There are only 2 things in life that you control

When you were looking back at bad times that made you upset, you might have noticed that many of those circumstances were actually beyond your control.

The stock market crashed, a loved one died, your company did a mass layoff…

These moments made us feel terrible, yet there’s not necessarily anything we could have done to prevent them from happening. Stoicism- a school of philosophy from Ancient Greece, argues that at all times there are only two things you and I can truly control:

  • Our thoughts
  • Our actions

The ability to differentiate between what is in your control and what is not is one part of a greater state of mind called apatheia.

Apatheia continues to remind us that in order to live a more peaceful and fulfilled life, we must discriminate between the millions of things we have no control about and worry over and our own words/actions which we can actually control. When focusing on what our actions will be, we should be thoughtful, acting virtuously by what we define as right and wrong.

Reason out how you are going to act in the most virtuous way given the situation and do it, there is not much else you can do. Stoicism and Nietzsche’s school of thought differ quite a lot, but there’s a nice overlap in this specific area.

TL;DR: Pursue Pain, Love the Bad

We have apatheia which partly argues that we should differentiate between what is in our control and what isn’t, then worry about the former.

We also have amor fati, which argues that we should reinterpret the worse things that happen to us as an amazing opportunity to grow into better versions of ourselves!

When you combine these two ideas you get a nice methodology to approach whatever seemingly cruel disaster will inevitably come across your path in the future.

Some things are in our control, but for the things that are clearly beyond just our personal domain of control, you can take these steps:

  • Acknowledge that the reason the situation happened is out of your control
  • Try taking a step back and remind yourself that you’ll learn something important from this experience.
  • Focus on what you can do: set up action items to better the situation for you and others around you, and do them. For me, I thought out the options in front of me as I was being stuck up with the knife instead of making the potentially deadly mistake of panicking.

I may make this sound like an incredibly simple process, but it isn’t. Emotions get in the way, our minds get clouded and we can forget these mental models in the heat of the moment. Once you acknowledge this, try it anyways.

Key Takeaways

  • Amor Fati is the idea of embracing all the hardships you experience in life and being grateful for them- as they give you the key learnings which mold you into who you are today.
  • Apatheia is the mental state of equanimity, where you can calmly differentiate between what happens in your life to be in and out of your control. And then to follow-up by reacting with reason and virtue.

So with all that said, get hurt a little. Get rejected, re-frame your problems, and see how they can actually help achieve the version of you that you’ve always wanted to become.

This deepfake is the closest thing to a picture of Nietsche smiling!

Undergraduate builder & researcher @UofT in the crossroads of computer science, immunology, and genetic engineering.

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